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Q&A: Andrew Heyn and Blair Marvin, bread bakers and business owners

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Taste of the Landscape

Baking assistant Kate Sprague, Phineas Marvin and his dad, Andrew Heyn, shape bread dough at Elmore Mountain Bread. Photo by Daria Bishop.

Baking assistant Kate Sprague, Phineas Marvin and his dad, Andrew Heyn, shape bread dough at Elmore Mountain Bread. Photo by Daria Bishop.

Andrew Heyn and Blair Marvin are husband and wife bakers and co-owners of Elmore Mountain Bread, a small wood-fired bread bakery and stone-ground flour mill in Elmore.

VL: Blair, you grew up in Vermont but never expected to settle here. What changed?
BM: It’s like growing up anywhere; you don’t really see it for what it is. I went to culinary school in Seattle where I met Andrew. One winter, we packed up our stuff and put it in storage and decided to come visit family for a working vacation. We were always planning on going back, but we were working in restaurants in Morrisville and Stowe when this baker I was buying bread from put his wood-fired bakery and house up for sale. That was 10 years ago this year.

AH: We were both looking to get out of restaurants. It was serendipitous. I had grown up in the Chicago suburbs, and it was pretty exciting to be in the culinary world in a big city like Seattle, but I also got into hiking and backpacking there. The thing is, there you had to drive to get to it. Here it’s right out my back door.

VL: Being a bread baker is quite different from being a chef. How was that shift for you both?
AH: My approach to cooking has always been looking into the science of why things happen, always trying to approach food methodically, trying to understand why it behaves the way it does. With bread, you have to weigh everything out very specifically and measure temperatures and moisture. It works kind of like a chemistry project. That’s how my brain works too, I guess.

BM: I have a different perspective completely. That’s why our whole setup works so well. I’m really attracted to the artistic side, the tactile side of things. Bread can be so beautiful. You eat it with your eyes first.

VL: You grew slowly to reach production of 1,200–1,400 loaves a week, sold almost exclusively within 50 miles of your bakery at the local supermarket chain as well as nearby co-ops. Then what?
AH: We were making a living and still enjoying doing it. We didn’t want to expand the size of our business beyond our wood-fired oven and the bakery attached to our house.

BM: We decided instead of growing in terms of size, to focus inward on the product itself, to expand our understanding of the bread and its ingredients and the process from start to finish, from the grower to the mill to the baking process. We learned about other bakers who were milling their own flour. One baker and friend in North Carolina helped us understand how milling our own flour could make healthier, more flavorful bread, and we knew that this was what we needed to do. Then we met Nate and Jessie Rogers who farm nearby in Berlin, right as they were about to harvest their first crop of wheat, and it just clicked. Now we make two breads exclusively with flour we mill from their wheat.

VL: Are bakers who also mill the next big thing in small-scale, artisanal bread?
AH: Most of our breads are just flour and water so using the best-tasting, freshest, most aromatic and nutritious flour will come through. Good bakers know that and the interest is huge. Since I built our first mill, I’ve spoken at conferences in Chicago and in New York. Now I’m consulting with other bakers about building their own mills. I recently bought a set of millstones from granite cutters in Barre for a baker in Connecticut. I’m also working with a baker in New Orleans.

BM: It’s been incredible watching the interest grow over the last couple of years. It’s bakers very much like us wanting to be closer to the process and the ingredients. It’s a way of taking the craft to the next level.

Melissa Pasanen

Melissa Pasanen

Contact Melissa Pasanen at mpasanen@aol.com and follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TasteofVermont.

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